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Slaty Fork Residents to Fight Sewage Plant Transfer In Court

Thursday August 23, 2007
The Pocahontas Times

By Drew Tanner, Staff Writer

New legal challenges face the Pocahontas County Public Service District as it attempts to take over sewage treatment operations at Snowshoe Mountain Resort.

Seven Slaty Fork residents and land-owners filed an injunction in Pocahontas County Circuit Court Monday to prevent the takeover and force the PSD to ask state regulators to re-examine its plans for a regional sewage treatment system.

The court filing comes just as a customer complaint against the resort-owned utility, Snowshoe Water & Sewer, is about to be heard by the state's Public Service Commission early next month.

In that complaint, owners of a condominium in the resort's West Ridge Development claimed Snowshoe Water & Sewer's negligence led to a sewage back up while the condo was being rented.

Upon closer examination of the main sewer lines around the development, a PSC staff memo found that the lines were "not installed to any required standard... All of the main sewers run steeply downhill in open ditches between four adjacent properties."

Many of the resort's main sewer lines were found to be in the same condition as the one that resulted in the back-up, according to PSC staff.

The memo goes on to recommend that all of the exposed sewer lines be replaced and buried to meet installation standards and that manholes be installed to lessen the slope and meet West Virginia Bureau of Public Health regulations.

The resort has objected that the PSC staff's recommendations are "not appropriate and would require substantial, unnecessary and imprudent expenditures."

The work suggested by the PSC would also be "contrary to the best interests of SWS and its ratepayers," the resort's attorney responded.

The PSC has scheduled a hearing on the condominium owners' complaint for September 5 at Marlinton Town Hall.

Meanwhile, the PSD has asked the PSC to approve the $4.5 million advance it is seeking from its funding from the state's Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council and to allow the PSD to take over the resort's sewage treatment operations sooner, rather than later.

The PSD contends its requests do not require the PSC to completely reopen the case that was ruled on in February, 2006, granting the PSD a Certificate of Need for the project.

Those who filed this week's legal action, however, say that these recent developments constitute a change of scope in the entire project and that the repairs to Snowshoe's system could drive up the overall cost of the project.

At a recent PSD meeting, the utility's attorney, Tom Michael, said the utility would work with the resort and project engineers at Thrasher Engineering to identify problems with the system that needed to be fixed before transferring it to the PSD.

The transfer agreement filed with the PSC last week, however, proposes that the PSD take over the Snowshoe system "as is, where is" and transfers the resort's wastewater responsibilities to the PSD.

The transfer could open the county to "an immense liability, with an unknown total cost and for which no budgetary provision has been made in the project," stated Monday's petition.

The petition also takes issue with the state-financed loans for a project being used "in aid of a private corporation" or to assume any of Snowshoe's liabilities.

Filed by Charleston-area attorney Deirdre Purdy on behalf of Tom Shipley, Barbara Sharp Smith, Gil and Mary Willis, Ronald Pickering, Walter Workman and Lowell Gibson, the petition has been assigned to Circuit Judge Joseph Pomponio.

As of Tuesday afternoon, a hearing in the matter had not yet been scheduled, according to the Pocahontas County Circuit Clerk's office.